BLOGS

Indie Snapshot: <i>Lola Versus</i>, <i>Safety Not Guaranteed</i> and <I>Dark Horse</i>

Their movies may disappoint, but spending time in the presence of indie film beauties Greta Gerwig and Aubrey Plaza isn't too much of a hardship.

Lola Versus
With the single-girl-in-Manhattan dramedy Lola Versus, Greta Gerwig completes her transition from edgy mumblecore icon to Boho glam goddess. Gerwig's alluring presence in the title role -- picture Chloƫ Sevigny crossed with When Harry Met Sally-era Meg Ryan -- sets the tone for the film, which dresses itself up in funky indie clothing but remains very much a Hollywood production at heart.

A graduate student who recently got engaged to her steady boyfriend Luke (Joel Kinnaman), Lola seems to be living the dream... that is, until Luke dumps her right before the wedding, which forces her to move out of his gorgeous Lower Manhattan loft and move on with her life. But starting over isn't as easy as it sounds, particularly when you're 29 and already terrified of dying alone and unloved. It doesn't help when you're support system includes a pair of well-meaning, but eccentric ex-hippie parents (Bill Pullman and Debra Winger) and a kooky best friend (Zoe Lister-Jones, who co-wrote the screenplay) with an even worse relationship track record than yours. The one person in her orbit that's even vaguely comforting is the best friend she shares with Luke, affable indie rocker Henry (Hamish Linklater). But then Lola has to go and screw that relationship up too, by hooking up with the poor guy even as she continues to obsess over (and make out with) her ex.

It's impossible not to watch Lola Versus without thinking of HBO's Girls, which is this movie's wittier, more insightful cousin. (That's not to say that Lister-Jones and co-writer/director Daryl Wein are specifically ripping off Lena Dunham, by the way. The two projects were written and shot around the same time -- Dunham's version is just better.) Lola resembles an amalgam of Hannah and Marnie, while Lister-Jones is part Jess and part Shoshanna and Henry is Marnie's sensitive ex Charlie. The movie even has its own version of Adam in the form of an oddball rollerblader (Ebon Moss-Bacharach) with whom Lola has a brief dalliance until she discovers that he likes to sing along to Ani DiFranco during sex. Beyond simply being funnier, Girls also rings truer in its depiction of twentysomething ennui than Lola Versus, which all too often falls back on hoary self-help platitudes (at one point, someone actually says "I've just gotta do me for a while" with a straight face) and predictable, almost sitcom-level situations. (Lister-Jones currently co-stars on NBC's Whitney and some of her one-liners sound like jokes Whitney Cummings rejected.) Although she's more glamorous these days, Gerwig still has the same likeable, charismatic presence she displayed in tiny, no-budget mumblecore pictures like Hannah Takes the Stairs and Nights and Weekends. But she alone can't bring the necessary amount of authenticity to this glossy version of an indie relationship comedy.

Safety Not Guaranteed
For her first big-screen star turn, Parks and Recreation scene stealer Aubrey Plaza doesn't stray too far from the persona she's established on that terrific NBC comedy series. Much like Pawnee resident April Ludgate, Seattle-based magazine intern Darius -- the focal point of this Sundance approved indie comedy -- is a sullen, sarcastic twentysomething who wields snark as a weapon to keep the people around her at bay. Unlike April though, Darius has a reason for being such a pill; her mother died in a random shooting when she was a teenager and the emotional scars of that loss are still fresh.

Considering this tragic incident in her past, it's no surprise that she's intrigued at the prospect of tagging along with one of Seattle Magazine's top staff writers, Jeff (Jake Johnson a.k.a. Nick from New Girl) on his new assignment -- finding the person who placed an odd classified ad looking for a partner to travel back in time with him. Deep down, of course, Darius knows that time travel is impossible and yet the thought that someone somehow might know how to pull it off is precisely the slender ray of hope that's capable of cutting through her cynicism. Unfortunately, her doubts are reinforced when she lays eyes on the guy behind the ad, an oddball grocery shelf stocker named Kenneth (Mark Duplass) who believes that he's under constant surveillance and thus also prefers to move through life in semi-isolation. When he instantly sees through Jeff's clumsy attempts to go undercover, Darius is enlisted to cozy up to their subject instead and get the necessary details for the article while her boss devotes his time to reconnecting with an old girlfriend who still lives in the area. Naturally, Kenneth is initially wary of this attractive girl that's turned up claiming to want to join him on his crazy adventure, but over time he and Darius start to connect in the way that quirky characters in indie movies always seem to do so effortlessly. And even though plenty of warning signs about her new pal crop up along the road to friendship (and possibly love?), he clearly gets her in a way nobody else ever has.

Thankfully, Safety Not Guaranteed isn't quite as annoying and precious as it sounds, thanks largely to Plaza's spiky screen presence. As a performer, she refuses to rush headlong into sentimentality, even when the material is pushing her in that direction; her natural edge helps offset some of the movie's more melodramatically twee flourishes. (She also acts her co-star Duplass off the screen, not that that's a huge challenge or anything. Outside of The League and maybe Humpday, the writer/director/actor is generally more tolerable behind the camera than in front of it.) Still, even though this is a good showcase for Plaza, it's not an especially good movie. Derek Connolly's script feels like a short film that was dragged out to feature length through dead end subplots (like Jeff's dalliance with his old flame) and sequences that stretch credulity (such as Darius and Kenneth stealing scientific equipment out of a lab). The movie's final moments are also a letdown, building to a payoff that strains for emotional resonance but comes up short. Make no mistake -- Plaza is a real talent. Talented enough to deserve better material than Safety Not Guaranteed.

Dark Horse
Todd Solodnz's films have always walked the line between cruelty and comedy. Going back to his breakout picture Welcome to the Dollhouse, the writer/director chronicles the exploits of society's loners and losers, but the key difference separating his particular sensibility from most other indie filmmakers is that he doesn't romanticize his eccentric outcast "heroes." If anything, he seems to take pleasure in ridiculing and, in some cases, punishing them for their insularity and lack of self-awareness. (Interestingly, Lena Dunham employs a similar approach in her work, but is far less vicious about it.) Whether it's Weiner Dog in Dollhouse, Bill Maplewood in Happiness or Aviva in Palindromes, to be the star of a Todd Solondz film is to put all your flaws on display in the least flattering way possible.

That tradition continues in Dark Horse, which stars Jordan Gelber as Abe, an overweight, overprivileged, overgrown adolescent who never left his family's nest. Now in his mid-30s, he still lives at home with timid Mom (Mia Farrow) and sullen Dad (Christopher Walken) and has a boring job at his father's office. When he's not goofing off at work, he's scanning eBay or visiting his local Toys "R" Us to add to his sizeable toy collection. If Abe feels guilty about his freeloading ways, he doesn't show it -- although he certainly does get testy whenever the subject of his more successful brother (Justin Bartha) is brought up. The only thing he feels is missing from his life is a woman to spend it with, but that changes when he meets Miranda (Selma Blair), a lovely woman who agrees to date Abe despite her obvious contempt for him.

Solodnz's post-Happiness career has largely been a case of diminishing returns, so it's kind of damning Dark Horse with faint praise to call it one of his better recent efforts. If nothing else, it successfully grounds these characters in a believable reality and moves forward with a consistent tone. Even a third-act leap into a more hallucinatory landscape doesn't feel as jarring as it otherwise might, because the director and his leading man have such a firm grasp on Abe's psychology. Gelber fully embraces his role as a boor who deals with his own personal failings by either ignoring them or blaming them on those around him. You may not like Abe very much -- hell, Solodnz practically goes out of his way to ensure that you don't -- but by the end of Dark Horse, you do understand him.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

What are people saying about your favorite shows and stars right now? Find out with Talk Without Pity, the social media site for real TV fans. See Tweets and Facebook comments in real time and add your own -- all without leaving TWoP. Join the conversation now!

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

3 ENTRIES

February 2014

4 ENTRIES

January 2014

3 ENTRIES

December 2013

3 ENTRIES

November 2013

1 ENTRIES

October 2013

6 ENTRIES

September 2013

1 ENTRIES

August 2013

5 ENTRIES

July 2013

2 ENTRIES

June 2013

5 ENTRIES

May 2013

7 ENTRIES

April 2013

3 ENTRIES

March 2013

7 ENTRIES

February 2013

1 ENTRIES

January 2013

1 ENTRIES

December 2012

2 ENTRIES

November 2012

1 ENTRIES

October 2012

2 ENTRIES

September 2012

1 ENTRIES

August 2012

2 ENTRIES

July 2012

2 ENTRIES

June 2012

4 ENTRIES

May 2012

2 ENTRIES

April 2012

3 ENTRIES

March 2012

5 ENTRIES

January 2012

2 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP